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South Africa's president defends his record

Facing competition for the leadership of his ruling African National Congress party, the beleaguered Jacob Zuma strikes a confident tone at its conference.

December 16, 2012|By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
  • South African President Jacob Zuma strikes a confident tone at the African National Congress party's national conference even though he faces a leadership challenge.
South African President Jacob Zuma strikes a confident tone at the African… (Stephane de Sakutin, AFP/Getty…)

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa — Defending his government's record and calling for an end to corruption, South African President Jacob Zuma addressed the opening session of the ruling African National Congress' national conference, at which he expected to comfortably be returned to party leadership.

Zuma faces competition from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe for the leadership post, which essentially determines who will be the South African president after elections in 2014.

But he appeared confident of maintaining power Sunday, as the hall erupted with deafening cheers and battle songs during his appearance. Wearing the ANC colors of yellow, green and black, Zuma danced and sang about Nelson Mandela, the party's elder statesman who is in the hospital recovering from a lung infection and surgery for gallstones.

South African news media reported the Zuma camp was furious that Motlanthe is contesting the leadership. Zuma seized power from his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, at a similar conference five years ago.

The ANC is so deeply divided that some party members in several provinces have taken party officials to court over allegations of voting manipulation or other improprieties in recent elections.

Zuma himself once faced more than 700 corruption charges, which were dropped two weeks before the 2009 general election, opening the way for him to become president.

Businessman and Zuma ally Cyril Ramaphosa, running as deputy ANC president on Zuma's ticket, is also likely to win, which would automatically make him South African deputy president, positioning him to succeed Zuma as president in 2019 elections.

Meanwhile, former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, a darling of the international markets who is now head of the National Planning Commission, said he would not run for a position on the party's ruling body, the national executive committee. Manuel, increasingly sidelined in the ANC government, was once seen as so central to the government that the South African currency, the rand, would fall whenever there was a rumor he might leave office.

Manuel told the City Press newspaper that the party's values were being destroyed in the leadership battle and hinted at concern that talented ANC people would be dumped or sidelined for their allegiances.

After singing his song, Zuma complained about "alien tendencies" in the party, accusing party members of vote buying and vote fraud — the same accusations that his opponents within the ANC make of his supporters.

"Comrades, we must also frown upon other alien practices such as the use of money to buy the support of ANC members. We should not allow a situation where those who have money turn members of the ANC into commodities," Zuma said.

"Other alien tendencies to be eliminated from the movement as part of renewal is the negative lobbying for positions which includes smear campaigns in the media as well as gossip and rumor-mongering about one another. Also common are the disrespectful public spats as well as hurling insults at other comrades or members of the public, thereby bringing the ANC into disrepute," he said, calling for an end to public dissent.

Zuma also conceded problems in education and called on teachers to arrive at school on time, dressed decently.

"Let me repeat the call to all our teachers, that they should be in school, in class, on time, teaching for seven hours every school day next year."

To cheers, he threatened surprise school inspections.

"I want [school] inspectors to come back," said Zuma, departing from his speech to deliver a proposal likely to be unpopular with teacher unions. "Comrades in education don't like it, but they must implement it."

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